12th Sunday after Pentecost
August 12, 2018
Pastor Tom Schulz
Mom calls to her children, “Wash your hands, it’s time for supper.” The children respond, “OK.” Then, nothing happens. The children listened, but they ignored Mom.
The same thing happens when a teacher explains a math concept in detail. The children nod their heads. Then she gives them practice problems. As she walks around the room, she finds most are doing it wrong. They had listened, but had not learned the concept.
This is where we are in our text. The crowd was listening to Jesus, but they weren’t getting him. The same thing can happen to us. We can listen to a sermon, but not profit from it.
So the encouragement for us today is simple:
LISTEN AND LEARN
I. The skeptics in the crowd failed to learn. Oh, they heard Jesus, but “they began to grumble about him because he said, ‘I am the bread of life that came down from heaven.’” They didn’t believe what Jesus said. Why not? Their human reason got in the way. Listen: “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know?” Their logical conclusion was that since they knew who Jesus’ parents were, Jesus couldn’t have come from heaven. They shut down any idea that Jesus might be God.
Their reason told them to reject what they had heard. Jesus had promised, “I will raise people on the last day.” But the skeptics rejected that idea. They saw Jesus as just another rabbi, not God. They concluded this in spite of the great miracle he had just done, in spite of all the healing he had done, in spite of all the evidence. Yes, they had listened to Jesus, but they really hadn’t learned anything. They shut their minds.
May we never fall into the same trap. We live in a world that prizes human reason very highly. This is true in the area of science and in the area of social engineering and in the area of religion. People insist that human reason must be in charge, and must be able to figure out every problem. So miracles are denied and every thing has to have an explanation.
Our sinful self struggles with the difficult truths of God’s Word. We hear them and we scratch our heads because we don’t always understand them. The doctrine of the Trinity is beyond our comprehension. So it the truth that Jesus is both God and man at the same time. Many people hear those truths and reject them or explain them away, just like this crowd.
In addition, as we listen to God’s Word, we find facts we don’t like to hear. The Lord God says to us, “Be holy, because I the Lord your God am holy.” God is calling on us to be perfectly obedient to his will. And he makes it clear that if we aren’t, then “the soul that sins is the one that will die.” Those who aren’t holy are condemned.
The temptation for the skeptic is to say, “Oh, God would never do that.” And what happens? People use their human reason to decide that they can strike a bargain with God. “I’ll try really hard to be good, and that should be enough.” Or people will say, “I know I’m not perfect, but look at all the good things I have done.” The skeptic expects God to be flexible because human reason tells us that being flexible is how things get done.
Yet the Lord God does not fudge on what he says. When people find out that the Lord is a God of justice, punishing people for their sins, many push Jesus away. They put up a wall. Or they find another religion in the world that allows them to do whatever they want, and still be right with God.
The devil tempts us to be skeptical of God’s Word. Remember how he approached Eve in the Garden of Eden. “Did God really say that?” He knows that doubt is the enemy of faith and that doubters eventually will reject Jesus. They listen, but they don’t learn the truth.
The truth is clear. It is foolish to reject what the Bible says. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father, except through me.” And the apostles pound that point home: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”
The skeptic listens, grumbles because he doesn’t understand, and refuses to learn.
II. The believer grasps those truths and holds on to them.
What are those truths? Jesus is more than Mary’s son. He is the Son of God, “the living bread that came down from heaven.” He is the only one who has been in the presence of his heavenly Father. “No one has seen the Father except the one who is from the Father.” And he does have the power to raise the dead. His miracles establish the fact that he is God.
That’s what Jesus is telling the crowd. That’s what Jesus is telling anyone who reads these words. Sadly, too many in that crowd, and too many today listen to his words, but will not believe what they hear.
Jesus is clear. “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” He has the power to do miracles because he is almighty God. He is the one, the only one, who can feed us with the bread of life, who can give the world hope and salvation.
Listen to those words of Jesus and learn from them. For here is a great truth: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them.” Sinful people do not come to faith in Christ on their own. We are all, by nature, skeptics.
But God is just the opposite. He invests in people and wants the best for them. Yes, as he says through Ezekiel, “The soul that sins is the one that will die.” But he also says through Ezekiel, “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live.” This is God’s grace and love for sinners. In his justice God owes us nothing. In his grace, he gives us everything. God is in the business of attracting sinners to the Savior. When people listen to the Word, God the Holy Spirit works in their hearts. His goal is to penetrate hard hearts and plant in those hearts faith and trust in Jesus the Savior. His goal is to hold before people the wonderful works of Jesus that promise forgiveness for every sin and life for every soul.
But what about those skeptics. God wants them, too. A young lady brought her agnostic boyfriend to church. He sat there with arms tightly crossed. He was there only for her. But he kept coming with her even though his heart was hard. Over several months, his posture in the pew slowly changed. He began listening intently, asking questions. Eventually, the skeptic was gone, and a believer was born again.
Was it the preacher? Was it the girlfriend? No, it was the good news of Jesus penetrating a heart and the Holy Spirit creating the miracle of faith in that heart.
Your eternal life is a gift from Jesus. He is the bread of life. There is much emphasis on eating right these days. More vegetables, less red meat. The promise is a longer life. Yet the Israelites in the desert ate miracle food every day, the manna sent by God. Yet what happened. Jesus says, “Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died.” Not even that miracle food could cause a person to live forever.
Jesus is the living manna, the living bread from heaven, food for our souls. Jesus says, “This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” Jesus is pointing us to the cross. He is referring to his sacrifice for the sins of humanity. He, through that sacrifice, gives life to the world. “Whoever eats this bread will live forever.” Believe in Jesus, believe that he is your God and Savior. Then you have forgiveness for all your doubts, mercy for all the times we were skeptical, grace for all the times we tried to explain away our sins.
Through Jesus, the bread of life, we will live forever. Yes, our bodies will die, but our souls will live forever with Jesus. Listen to that message, take it to heart and learn its comfort. Never doubt, only believe. Amen.